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Page last updated at 14:19 GMT, Monday, 25 January 2010
East 15 theatre school opens new venue in former church
Organ pipes in Clifftown Studios
The church organ dominates the theatre space, but requires restoration

A former United Reformed church in Southend has reopened as a theatre and studios for the East 15 acting school.

Clifftown Studios is the result of a £5.5 million renovation of the Grade II listed building for the University of Essex affiliated group.

The building now includes a theatre, box office, five workshop studios, dressing rooms, wardrobe department, props making area and cafe.

As well as East 15 the venue will also be available for local community use.

The centre-piece of the building is the theatre, located in what would have been the nave of the church.

Whilst bedecked with state-of-the-art facilities, such as lighting, seating and staging, it is still sympathetic to its past, notably the huge organ pipes which dominate the space.

"It's really a very exciting use of what was once a derelict building," said Nicholas Hall, Head of Acting and Stage Combat at East 15.

Clifftown Studios, formerly the local United Reform Church
The church was bought for East 15 by the University of Essex in 2007

"The restoration was done very sympathetically and a lot of the interior is Grade II listed.

"We didn't want to suddenly devastate this landmark. We're in Clifftown which is a preservation area and I think it would have been entirely inappropriate if we took this church and changed it beyond all recognition.

"We want to fit into this area and in fact part of what we're doing is offering an arts building for the community in Southend," Nicholas added.

The renovation, which took two-and-a-half years to complete, is now home to four courses, alongside the school's other campuses in Southend and Loughton.

Its official opening is being marked by a weekend of productions entitled TheRealBritain, which will feature different performances based on the theme of immigration and asylum, taking place all around the venue.

For more information, visit the East 15 website or call the box office on 01702 328335.

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